South Sudan: Independence on a Capitalist Basis Offers No Long Term Solution
South Sudan: Independence on a Capitalist Basis Offers No Long Term Solution
By Peluola Adewale
On July 9, 2011, South Sudan will officially become the newest nation in Africa by virtue of overwhelming votes, almost 99% support, for secession in the independence referendum held between January 9 and 15, 2011. The referendum is a product of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement reached in 2005 that ended the second north-south civil war which lasted two decades and claimed some 2 million lives. No doubt the people of South Sudan, one of the least developed areas in the world, had voted for secession with hope that it would usher an era of freedom and development. Already, since 2005 the region has been under semi-autonomous government of Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Movement (SPLM) led by Salva Kiir Mayardit and with capital in Juba.
Socialists support the rights of a people to self-determination including right to secede, but advocate the unity of working class people of all ethnics and religion in the struggle against common capitalist oppressors. There was no problem among the ordinary people from the north and south of Sudan. Indeed, a huge number of the southerners moved to live in the north to escape the war. It was the ruling elites of the north that discriminated against southerners, vis-Å•-vis access to education, jobs, etc. This does not however mean that the ordinary working people of the north enjoy good living standards as seen in this year’s protests in Khartoum, the northern capital. However, in the absence of united struggles for a better life, support for separation grew in the south. This changed the situation. Socialist are against involuntary unity. Where there is overwhelming demand for separation socialists, while supporting separation, argue that independence on a capitalist basis offers no long term solution and call for independent on a socialist basis. But an isolated socialist country would, eventually, fall prey to world imperialism. This is why today in Sudan socialists would argue for a South Sudan run by workers and the poor that would extend the hand of friendship and common struggle to the workers and poor in northern Sudan and throughout the region, struggles that could lead to a regional confederation of democratic socialist states that would begin to seriously tackle the enormous problems facing working people.
It needs to be understood that the separation of Sudan into two countries is made possible by the absence of viable working class movement that is capable of uniting the working people and youths of Sudan irrespective of religion and ethnic background against anti-poor, pro-capitalist policies and social discrimination and mobilising them for a struggle to defeat thieving capitalist elites and form a government run on a socialist programme. The capitalist elites, as it is the case all over the world, cannot resolve the national question on the basis of capitalism. Sudan, a late nineteenth century creation of British Imperialism with the support of its then client state Egypt, is not an exception. Indeed, the country, which has witnessed two major civil wars, is a typical example of how the ruling elites exploit the unresolved national question for their self-serving agenda. Tragically Sudan once had a powerful workers’ movement, from the end of the Second World War until the early 1970s the Sudanese Communist Party was the largest in Africa. But this party’s reliance on links with “progressive military officers” rather than mass action proved fatal when its leaders were massacred after a failed coup in 1971.
The lack of a workers’ movement partly explains why today rather than the ordinary people it is the ruling elite from the South Sudan, who were apparently motivated by oil wealth to champion secession, that would be the major beneficiaries of this separation or independence from government of Khartoum. Therefore, while the independence is a big relief to the people of South Sudan and there will be some improvements compared with what obtained while under Khartoum government, there is every indication the vast majority of the population will remain poor as a result of corruption and anti-poor, neo-liberal capitalist programme of the SPLM.
The SPLM, for instance, has received almost $10bn in oil revenues since 2005, yet many people say they have seen little benefit from the petrodollars, though the government claims money has been spent on roads and infrastructure. But a man, an operator of commercial motorbike told the BBC, “They say they are building new roads, but I think the ministers just pocket the money.” (BBC, November 2, 2009). Also insinuating that because that officials drive around in flashy new 4x4s (off-road) and as a result of entrenched corruption, he said, “I think these roads will never be good”. A report by the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, a US-based non-governmental organisation, also says that corruption is a problem “at all levels of government”
But, the new country does not have a luxury of years to use oil revenue to build a viable nation. A study has shown that without additional discoveries the output of oil, which accounts for 98 percent of the revenue of the government, will peak in the year 2011-12 and then gradually decline and is likely to run out in 20 to 30 years.
At present South Sudan earns 50% of oil revenue, though accounts almost three-quarters of 500, 000 barrels per day. The challenge for the new country will be whether to maintain the sharing formula or change it. At present, the north is very strategic or indispensable to oil revenue of independent South Sudan because the pipeline to export the oil runs to Port Sudan in the north. A possible new pipeline to Kenya, which has been mooted, according to analysts, would be extremely costly and would take years to build. Therefore, South Sudan will have to prepare to a hefty price for transporting oil through the north.
However, the status of oil producing town of Abyei on the border between the north and south has not been decided. It remains a flashpoint. The people of Dinka Ngok think it belongs in the south, while the nomadic Arab Misseriya see it as a part of the north. It is not impossible for both governments of Khartoum and Juba to be involved pitching tent with either party because of the interest in oil.
The issue of the border also illustrates the tensions and problems caused by this capitalist division. Already in the run-up to the referendum large numbers of “southerners” living in the north, especially Khartoum, moved south even if they had been born in or grew up in the north. Many feared discrimination or worse when the country split. Huge problems are being made for “mixed” families especially in the northern cities, do they stay or go? If “southerners” stay in the north what rights there will they have and will they lose any possessions, like land, they have in the south? Socialists support the right of Sudanese to freely choose their citizenship and not be discriminated either in the north or south on the basis of their choice of nationality. Children of “mixed” parents should have the right to dual citizenship. But on the basis of capitalism the danger is that “southerner” in the north will face discrimination and “northerners” in the south will face the same situation.
Meanwhile, from the history of countries that got independence or freedom from the efforts of “liberation army”, this one-sided referendum is prophetical of what could happen for a long time in South Sudan. The country will be mostly run on the basis of one-party system and if election is conducted it would be just to “legalise” the continued rule of SPLM. The opposition and democratic rights may be suppressed because the “liberators” would see themselves as the only competent hands to rule the country. Such scenario is impregnated with a time bomb as the new country is not ethnically homogeneous, it is multi-ethnic. Therefore, the creation of South Sudan is not an automatic resolution of national question or enthronement of lasting peace in the country. The ruling elites of different ethnic groups, in the struggle for political power in order to gain access to oil revenue or the collective wealth of the country may play up the division and lie the people of their ethnic group behind themselves for their self-serving end.
Already, an indication of unending crisis of political power that may grip the country is the clash that broke out between SPLA and a renegade armed group led by George Athor incidentally after the official announcement of the results of the referendum on February 10. About 200 people died in the clash. Athor, who was a general in the southern army, launched a rebellion against SPLM after claiming he was cheated out of the governorship of Jonglei state in April 2010 elections. Athor apparently considered governorship of the largest state in the South Sudan as its own share of the spoils of the “war of liberation”. His rebel army signed a ceasefire agreement with SPLM before the landmark referendum and went back to the trench apparently when it was clear the independence of South Sudan was secure. Apart from Athor, there are other dissident military figures demanding settlements for the roles in the birth of the new country.
On the basis of capitalism, the ruling elites in South Sudan cannot guarantee improved living standards for the vast majority and a lasting peace. But the working class and youths activists of the new country could help build a working class movement that will demand the enthronement of genuine democratic rights and the commitment of adequate public resources to infrastructure and social needs like education, health care, power, water and road subject to open democratic control of the working people. Such movement should also be the one that is capable of uniting the working people against ethnic or religious crises and building a working people’s political alternative which could be in position to play leading roles and make political gains in the struggles that may breakout by the failure of the ruling elite, as a result of capitalist neo-liberal attacks and corruption, to meet the aspirations of the ordinary people. The disillusionment of the people in the failure of capitalism to fundamentally improve their lots despite their secession from Sudan may draw some layers to socialist consciousness and the aspiration for socialist alternative in the country.